Luganda Book Reviews


(1). Kaddu: J.S. (1973) Nkyalira Walumbe e Ttanda. East African Literature Bureau (Kenya).Nairobi.

This is a strange little book. Its title literally means "I visit death at Ttanda", but a more precise translation is "How I visited death at Ttanda ". It is narrated in the first person and tells the story of the author's journey on his way to visit death. (In Kiganda folklore death is some sort of spirit who beckons you to go just before you die --- more details on how this spirit came to our country Buganda below in another book). In a way, the book describes the ceremony of burial as "seen" from the point of view of the dead person.

The author describes how death (Walumbe) sent some man in the dead of the night to ask go visit him, and all the adventures he experienced during this journey. The story ends with his return to the world of the living.

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(2) Mpalanyi; S.E.K. (1961). Ssanyu Teribeerera. Published by the author, Kampala.

This book has an English subtitle "You Can't Always Be Happy". It describes the life of a boy called Munaku and it is set in times before the white man came to Buganda. Munaku is born on a village called Bubebbere which has many strange things including a natural spring whose waters are a very concentrated beer. He has a girl friend called Nyeenya whose father, Mukene, was something of a village tyrant who did not appreciate any advances on any of his daughters.

The village is invaded one night and Munaku runs away to a big forest leaving his girl friend behind or so he thought. In the forest they are rejoined, along with their mutual friend Katali. The rest of the story tells of their fortunes as they venture through the forest and into a strange new land, where they seek refuge at an old lady's house.

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(3) Mpalanyi; S.E.K. (1977) Nnaku Teba Y'omu. East African Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya.

This book is a sequel to the author's earlier book SSANYU TERIBEERERA. Its title has the literal translation of " Nobody suffers alone (or exclusively)" but I think that the author meant it as "Nobody suffers forever". As expected the main characters are Munaku and Nyeenya and they have nearly the same relation to each other as in the first book. In a way the two books are really about Munaku's life. Nyeenya only enters it because she happens to be in love with Munaku, but as it turns out she does not influence his life very much. A new girl is introduced to play the pivotal role. An old lady where they sought refuge gives them food and afterwards they tell her the events that forced them to flee their own country. Through this lady we learn about the culture and customs of this strange new land.

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(4) Mpalanyi: S.E.K. (1977) Ndikumma Okulya. Published by the author. Kampala, Uganda.

This book tells the story of the life of a girl named Zansanze who was born into a decent family. Her mother taught her all the customs of the Baganda women and the proper behavior expected of them. Her paternal grandmother supplements this advice especially in preparing her for marriage. The story is told in the first person and is intended to be read by both sexes young and old as the author puts it.

Zansanze spent her early years with her grandmother. She returned to her father's home when the grandmother passed away. Her mother wastes no time in starting her informal education and she does this by designating some chores to her. Apparently, Zansanze thinks her mother is just being harsh towards her. Later she realized that her mother was only being kind to her by teaching her how to do housework. Her mother warns her against pre-marital pregnancy by telling her about what happens to such girls. Zansanze tells of her efforts to cope with troubles spawned by adolescence. At about this time she goes to live with her paternal aunt who is supportive and educates her about marriage. She also draws upon the experiences of married women whom she befriends. She describes (traditional) courtship and engagement with most of the pertinent ceremonies. The story ends with her wedding. In style, the story is told with a lot more dialogue than other books by the author. This makes it a very interesting and easy book to read.

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5) Mpalanyi, S.E.K. (1972). Basajja Mivule: Soma Oyige. Published by the East African Literature Bureau.

This is the story of a boy named Mivule . He is badly brought up - not intentionally, but apparently due to a "spare the rod and spoil the child" type of situation. Mivule drops out of school and is unable to hold a job. The city lures him and he suffers the usual misadventures of playboys. Eventually, he comes to his senses and gets serious with life and gets a job. He finally returns to his home village to start a family.

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(6) Nsimbi. M.B. (1956). Amannya Amaganda n'Ennono Zaago. Published by Longman, Uganda.

This is one of the most important non-fiction works by one of the most important authors in Buganda. Its title stands for 'The names of the Baganda; their origins and meanings.' It was first published in hard cover in 1956, the paper back came out in 1980 and is immensely popular among Baganda. Its author freely acknowledges that this work is an incomplete one. The author states that this work is a sort of up-date and correction to Roscoe's book (The Baganda) and Sir Apolo Kaggwa's Ebika bya Baganda.

The Baganda are organized into about fifty clans. Each clan has a distinct set of names that members of that clan may be given. However not all names are clan names. For example some names are a function of one's office or state in life, some arise from the nature of birth, others arise from place of birth and yet others are nicknames, self imparted or otherwise. Many names are derived from proverbs and popular sayings.

Members of each clan are blood relatives that can generally trace their ancestry back to a common ancestor, the progenitor of the clan. All the clan members refer to each other as brothers and sisters. The clans are very highly organized, with each clan having a head who is a direct descendant of the clan patriarch. Children are automatically members of their father's clan.

This book is an important account of the history, customs and folklore of the Baganda especially as they relate to naming conventions. It shows how names were acquired by individuals as well as by clans. The author does an excellent job in tracing the roots of many names and their meanings. It is somewhat surprising to find that many of the names that are recognized as belonging to a given clan, in actual fact were annexed from other tribes. One of the duties of each clan head is to maintain a list of the names of the members of his clan as well as their relation to each other. He is the final traditional arbitrator of disputes among members of his clan. A few cases however,are intricate enough to be referred to the Kabaka (King) who is the supreme head of the clan heads. Among the Baganda, one of the heaviest punishments an individual can get is to be expelled from the clan. It is even considered worse than being put to death. This punishment is meted out as a last resort to those who commit very serious transgressions against culture. The seriousness of this punishment can only be fully appreciated if one understands the centrality of the clan in Kiganda culture.

This book is a must read for anyone seriously interested in the culture of the Baganda.

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(7) Nsimbi, M.B. (1959). Kitagenda ne Kagenda. Published by Uganda Bookshop, Kampala.

This book is part of a trilogy the others being Kagenda Ne Banne and Kagenda Ne Banne Bakola Ki?' It describes the life of a man named Kitagenda and his children: Kagenda, Ssempaka (sons): Namirembe and Alinyiikira (daughters). Kitagenda was a great hunter and a skilled bark-cloth maker among other things. The major part of the story is devoted to Kagenda: his boyhood, formal and informal education. Through Kagenda we get a glimpse of what school life was like in those days (he was born on 9 August 1914; so he probably started going to school around 1924). The author takes the opportunity to criticize the educational system that taught students more about foreign history while mentioning nothing about indigenous history. The author however, lauds the system for teaching many other useful subjects. As usual the story has several lessons for the young. It shows the value of education and warns the young of the disadvantages of playing truant.

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(8) Nsimbi, M.B. (1959). Kagenda Ne Banne Bakola Ki? Uganda Bookshop, Kampala.

This book is the last part of the trilogy and its title literally means: What are Kagenda and his friends doing? In this book Kagenda goes to Europe for further studies and comes back to confront the legacy of the 2 systems (the African and European). The book is set in the times immediately following the end of World War II. In a way the book is about the conflict of values experienced by Africans educated in foreign lands (however brief their studies may be) on the return. (In modern parlance, this is referred to as 'cultural shock'). Their voyages are expected somehow to transform them into conspicuous consumers especially when it comes to status symbol items like cars. Kagenda on the other hand just wants to be like everybody else and buys a small car.

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(9) Nsimbi, M. B. (1984). Kulyennyingi. Uganda Bookshop,Kampala.

This is a story about a young man named Kulyennyingi which is set in contemporary times as the main character is born in 1953. It is an important documentation of life under the barbaric misrule of Amin in Uganda (1971- 1979) as experienced by the urban people. Incidentally, Kulyennyingi's name is a short form a proverb: "Okulya ennyingi si kuggwa maddu" which literally means that 'to eat a lot is not to get you cured of greed'. Kulyennyingi gets kicked out of school for misbehaving and joins a group of urban young men who are unemployed and are school dropouts themselves. They evolve their own dialect basically by annexing words from other languages (this actually did happen in real life). Initially the dialect is for the exclusive use of the group as a form of secret communication but it spreads to general populace (see chapter 5).

The mainstream refer to this group as "Abayaaye". The Bayaaye whom Kulyennyingi joins constitute the bulk of the city's petty criminals and con- men. Indeed Kulyennyingi has several encounters with the law and is thrown behind bars on occasion. He bribes his way out since the police are themselves notoriously corrupt. He eventually joins Amin's secret police known as the 'State Research Bureau' (which was its actual name). He and his fellow agents terrorize the populace, living by extortion. However Kulyenyingi is himself victimized by the system, in an ironic turn of fate, fulfilling the Kiganda proverb that says: "Enyanja etta agimanyidde" (Those who think they know how to swim often drown).

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(10) Binsangawano. (1962) Bonna Baasumagira? Published by Longman, Kampala, Uganda.

Binsangawano literally means that "words find me here", the words referred to are really rumors. It is also the pen-name of Nsimbi. The title literary means "did they all doze?" It is a story with a moral behind it: and the lesson it teaches are the dangers of "modern" cities to the lives of youngsters. There is a saying to the effect the "those who party all the time often stay single" - because they never have time to do anything else. This is the story of two girls Kate and Getu who were friends. Kate gets attracted by city lights, parties, men. e.t.c. She runs away from her home and goes to the city apparently on the urging of her boyfriend named John, with whom they have many (mis)adventures.

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(11) Binsangawano. (1978). Bwali Butamanya. Published by Longman, Uganda.

This is Binsangawano's second book. It is about the life of a boy named James Kasolo and his sisters Kulisitiina Nanteza, Fuloola Nalumansi and Ssaala Zawedde. Beatrice Nakakaawa joins the story as Kasolo's wife. As usual the story has a moral. It shows the detrimental effects of modern (=city) life and that some friends are good while others are not so good. It also shows the value of a good education. Its audience is today's youngsters.

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(12) Kawere, E.K.N. (1954) Zinunula Omunaku. Seventh edition (1982). Published by Uganda Literature Bureau. Kampala,

This classic is one of the most widely read novels of the Luganda language. It is set in the pre-colonial days and details the life of an orphan boy named Zinunula.

Zinunula's father dies before Zinunula is born and his mother about two years after he is born. He is raised by his grandparents. His paternal uncle - a wealthy man with several wives and servants takes him to his home after the death of his grandparents - against his wish. He becomes the darling of one of the uncle's wives and her daughter Komunaku, but the other wives hate his guts. The head wife plots to kill him and a servant Mikolo whom he had befriended. Komunaku tips them off and they decide to run away and they experience many wild adventures on the ensuing journeys. They eventually settled in another land with new strange customs.

They display courage in many instances: killing lions and other fierce animals and taming or clipping the wings of bullies. Bad luck befalls them when on a fishing trip with the sons of the chief, one of the sons drowns in the lake. At court, Zinunula's life is saved from the fury of the chief by an old man named Muyodi. The two become friends and Muyodi teaches him many a trick. The cheif however harbours an intense dislike for Zinunula and secretly looks for ways to kill him and his friends. Zinunula falls in love with one of the chief's daughters named Mirembe and their great secret romance is one of the most beautiful love stories in Luganda. The two however are betrayed to the chief who arranges a gladiator type of fight hoping it will result in Zinunula's death. The epic struggle makes for very dramatic reading. It earns Zinunula great respect and popularity at the expense of the chief and serves him well in his further equally dramatic adventures. Against overwhelming odds, Zinunula saves the village from a hostile invasion. In the end, the chief is left with no choice but to allow the marriage of Zinunula and Mirembe.

This summary does not do justice at all to this great novel. Suffice it to say it is an important window on life in Buganda a long, long time ago.

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(13) Kawere, E.K. (1960). Nketta mu Bizinga. Published by East African Literature Bureau, Kampala.

The full title of this book is "Nketta mu Bizinga by'e Yugoyugo"; which means "I spy in the Yugoyugo Islands" and it details the adventures of one of the African soldiers during the Second World War. The story is narrated in the first person. The narrator is Kasiribiti who was nicknamed Kakundugulu by his friends. He joined the military intelligence unit and was assigned to spy in the Yugoyugo Islands. It reads like any good James Bond escapade complete with helicopters, artificial fish - big enough to conceal a man. e.t.c. The only difference is that it is a Luganda original.

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(14) Segganyi, E.A.K.: Kizito, E.K. and J.K.S. Mukalazi. (1959) Ssebato Bafuma. Published by the East African Literature Bureau.

This book follows in the tradition of Sir Appollo Kaggwa's Engero za Baganda (The Stories/Fables of the Baganda ). It is also unique in that it represents a family effort. All the authors are the sons of Kiwutta. Kaggwa 's book is a collection of fifty four stories and this one is a collection of some eighty folk stories.

Here is the story of 'Wamusota ne Wakikere' (literally the snake and the frog) to give you the flavor of these stories. Wamusota (the snake) and Wakikere (the frog) used to be great friends. One day, Wamusota invites Wakikere to accompany him to go visit his (Wamusota's) in- laws. As is customary in Buganda, on arrival they are given plenty to eat and drink. At the start of dinner however, Wamusota remarked to his friend that he looked dirty. He asked him to go wash his hands to avoid embarrassing him in front of his in- laws by eating with dirty hands. Wakikere tries to do this but gets his hands dirty again since he moves on all fours. He is repeatedly sent out to try again but with the same results. Meanwhile, Wamusota is finishing all the food.

Some time later, Wakikere invites his friend to accompany him to visit his (Wakikere's) in-laws. As expected, they are again given plenty to eat and drink. At dinner time, Wakikere objects to his friend eating while lying down. Try as he could, Wamusota was unable to sit up straight. He eventually realised that Wakikere was getting back at him for the earlier incident and he flees from Wakikere's in-laws. To this day these two are enemies. The morals here is "Do unto others as you want others to do unto you" and/or 'no one has a monopoly of tricks.'

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(15) Kaswa, J. (]966). Omuganda n'Enswa. Published by East African Literature Bureau, second edition, 1976.

The title means The Baganda and Termites.' The author apparently wrote the first edition in 1958 while teaching at Makerere College School, Kampala. This is a factual book. It details part of the Baganda 's customs that involve termites - specifically the reproductives. The Baganda recognize several types of termites mainly by their appearance, type of anthill they live in and time at which they take their nuptial flights as well as where they are found. The different types include ennaka, ensejjere, empawu, entunda, embaala, olubobya and obumpowooko.

Each type (species) is associated with a particular type of mushroom and they all serve different purposes. These termites (nswa) were used in payments of debts, compensation, payment of bride price, e.t.c. and are considered delicacies perhaps in much the same way that Western cultures revere shrimps, octopuses or frog's legs - which many Baganda might find repulsive. This book also shows that the Baganda have a good grasp of entomological principles.

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(16) Kiwanuka - Musisi C.G. (1960) Kikonyogo. Published by Longman, Uganda.

The full title of the book is "KIKONYOGO, BAKIKASUKIRA KULAARIRA NE KIDDA N'EKIRIMBA". This story is narrated in the first person and is a story of a police detective named Tomusange and his friend Kaweke. They come from the same village of Kaabubiro. Tomusange joined the police force in 1946 is the more prosperous of the two. He has a car which they both use as though they equally own it. They have a misunderstanding because Kaweke would take the car saying he was going to visit his parents but in actual fact go elsewhere. Tomusange is unhappy about his friend's duplicity. Kaweke eventually hires hit-men to kill his friend. The plan goes awry and the wrong man is murdered instead. Tomusange takes the case. He discovers that he was the intended victim and that his dear friend was behind it all. It is noteworthy that this book was written while the author was still in secondary school. It was submitted to the national Luganda writing competition.

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(17) Mulira, E.E.K. (1951). Olugero lwa Kintu. Published by Uganda Bookshop, Kampala.

This is one of the most widely read Kiganda folk stories. It tells the story of Kintu supposedly the first person to live in Buganda and the ancestor of all the Baganda. He lived alone with his beloved cow. The story has a striking similarity to the biblical story of Adam and Eve as told in Genesis.

There is a powerful and wealthy chief by the name of Ggulu, Lord of the Skies. One day his daughter Nambi and some of his sons come down to earth from the sky. They find this solitary man Kintu with his cow. Kintu and Nambi fall in love; and Nambi wants to get married to Kintu and live with him in Buganda. Her brothers object and advise her to seek the blessings of their father Ggulu. Ggulu does not want the match to go ahead and so he gives Kintu a series of seemingly impossible tasks. Through ingenuity and the help of supernatural forces, Kintu is able to overcome all the challenges. Ggulu then relactantly blesses the union.

Ggulu urges them to take off for Buganda before Nambi's brother Walumbe (death) comes back else he will follow them and bring death and sickness to their offspring. On no account was either of them to return to Ggulu's court. They take off with lots of goods but on the way Nambi remembers that she had forgotten to pack millet to feed her chickens. She goes back to get it despite Kintu's protest not to violate Ggulu's command. The dreaded encounter with Walumbe happens and he insists on following Nambi to the new land. Thus Nambi brought death to Buganda - like Eve, her biblical counterpart. When Walumbe started killing his children, Kintu complained to Ggulu. Ggulu sends Kayikuuzi, one of his sons to catch Walumbe and remove him from the earth. After an epic struggle, Kayikuuzi fails and returns to Ggulu.

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(18) Magala. E.K. (1961) Engero Zikuwoomera? Published by the East African Literature Bureau, Kampala.

Most of these stories are from the Baganda culture and a few are taken from other cultures (not always identified in the book!). The author gives three reasons for telling these stories:- 1) for their own sake because they are pleasant and entertaining to listen to. 2) to show us how our ancestors used to live 3) they teach us good manners and warn us of various dangers. This book is in the same genre as Kaggwa's Engero za Baganda and Ssebato Bafuma (reviewed above) by Segganyi et al.

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( 19) Mbaziira, F.X. ( 1970). Tuula Tuwaye: Ekitabo ky'Ebitontome. Published by East African Literature Bureau, Kampala.

The author started writing poetry as a teenager but did not get to publish this collection till many years later when he had become a Catholic priest. These poems are very entertaining to read and very pleasant to listen to. The author uses words that rhyme to achieve this and also to tell a story. To appreciate the difficulty involved in inventing this sort of work try to think of a story that goes like "Peter Pan bought a piece of bitter butter ..". Akawala akaawa Kaawa kaawa akaawakaawa kaawa? (=where does the little girl who gave Kaawa bitterish coffee stay?). These phrases result in delightful tongue twisters when spoken rapidly especially by the young. This however is not the only technique the author uses to tell his stories. When he diverts from the "rhyme technique" he relies on the assumption that the one who reads/recites these poems appreciates punctuation and can pace the poem. This is most certainly the case with poem number 20 "Walumbe e Ttanda"; which reads like a song. Poems similar to these used to be performed by children in elementary school (Ages 7- 13) on the "Parents' Day".

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(20) Kalinda C. (1974). Bazibumbira. Published by East African Literature Bureau, Kampala.

This is the story of the life of a boy named Bazibumbira whose father was a veteran, probably of World War II. Bazibumbira's father takes a second wife and the first wife (Bazibumbira's mother) Suzaana leaves him. Suzaana dies and Bazibumbira is left to Ddina the second wife who is cruel to him. He goes to school. His father sends him to live in the home of his friend Ssebbirikkundi who also has two wives. The younger wife takes to Bazibumbira and the older wife exploits this innocent relationship to get rid of the younger competition. Bazibumbira once again takes off but women cannot seem to refrain from taking advantage of him.

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(21) Kalinda, C. S. 1985. Pawulo Kirimuttu. Uganda Bookshop. Kampala.

This is a story about a young man named Pawulo Kirimuttu. Kirimuttu is a short form of the luganda proverb: 'Kirimuttu kimanyibwa nnyinikyo' = what is inside a package is known only to its owner.' Kirimuttu returns from his studies overseas and almost immediately commits suicide. The various taboos that are observed when one commits suicide are described. Among other things these include the burial of the victim at the site where they commit suicide without the benefit of the usual funeral rites.

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(22) Mukasa, P. ca 1984. Jangu Tutontome. Mubaka Publications, Kampala.

This is a collection of local poems written by a lady and they touch nearly every aspect of the Kiganda way of life. The intention is to explain the origins of the various traditions and their uses to a young audience in a humorous way. In doing this the author inevitably has borrowed material from other stories: but she presents the old material in clever and pleasant way. The new material she has also demonstrates that she is a keen observer of every day mundane events.

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(23) Lule, J.M. 1950. Ssebato Bazannya. Uganda Bookshop, Kampala.

This is a collection of short stories and plays that the young are fond of playing when they are growing up in Buganda. In fact the title of the book stands for something like 'the young at play'. Some of these stories have been covered in other books above but because each author adds his/her own twists to a story they are entertaining to their intended audience -- the young.

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(24) Kyeyune. E. N-. 1985. Bemba Musota. Mubaka printers, Kampala.

This is a play set in the times at the beginning of the kingdom of Buganda and its about he despotic ruler named Bemba who was at the time stronger than any other chief and so ruled everybody. When the play starts Bemba has enlisted the services of the best iron mongers to manufactures an immortal warrior -- in essence a robot -- so he can use it to widen his sphere of influence. Kabaka Kintu arrives at the scene and defeats Bemba before he can carry out his plans.

This play coincides with an important turn in traditional story telling in Uganda which in the commercialization of story telling. These plays evidently are based upon local folklore and are produced by local drama societies in modern theatres instead of the traditional fire place.

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(25) Walser, F. 1984. Luganda Proverbs. Mill Hill Missionaries. Kampala.

This is the most important collection of Luganda proverbs to date. What is remarkable about it is that was written by a foreigner, an Austrian missionary priest. Although the manuscript was completed in 1957, it was not published until 1984 due to various technical and financial difficulties. Sadly, by then the author was dead! Many of these proverbs are based upon real events. Proverbs then are like summaries of events that took place a long time ago and are therefore important in preserving folklore when the roots of each proverb are explored. The author did a commendable job on cross-referencing. This collection of some 5000 Luganda proverbs is the most comprehensive of its type. It includes English translations of most of the proverbs listed, both literal and application based, making it particularly valuable to the non-native reader. It goes further to give equivalents to some of the proverbs in several other modern languages. This 500 page book also has a very useful index as well as an informative (English) introduction. The only draw backs are the few misspellings that escaped the editor's eye, and the fact that very little is written about author (e.g. where in Uganda did he serve, how did he become interested in proverbs, what was his educational and family backgrounds? etc).


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